I am quite picky when it comes to music videos. The song and video have to go together–a good video can’t survive a boring song and vice versa. On top of that, I vastly prefer narrative-driven videos to performance videos. After 14.5 years of reviewing, I’ve seen hundreds (if not thousands) of performance videos, and they’re pretty much all the same. Given those facts, my recommendation of a performance video should be recognized as extremely high praise.
The Contenders‘ “Not Enough” performance video is that needle in a haystack. The song itself is folk-rock at its very finest. The guitar-and-drums duo knows how to make the most of their skills. Jay Nash’s songwriting is immediately engrossing, and his lead vocal performance is brash yet tempered with pathos. The chemistry between the two is palpable: the instrumental mesh is tight between Josh Day’s kit and the guitar, and the close-harmony vocals from both are impressive.
The most impressive note of the performance is what Day mentions at the end: Nash apparently improvised part of the song, and Day followed him hand-in-glove with harmonies. Now that’s impressive. (The ridiculous nature of their banter makes me think that their live show would be a blast too.) The duo clearly has the chemistry, charm, and chops of a hardworking, road-tested outfit.
The video itself is, yes, a performance video. But the space they’re in is more interesting than average: the wood-paneled walls give “Precision Valley” a rustic-modern feel that fits with the tune. Yeah, I know it’s not a ton, but when we’re talking about performance videos, any element that breaks the stereotypical mold of bands-on-stage is appreciated.
The downtempo indie-pop/folk of Little Shrine‘s “Stone” sounds way too polished and mature to come out of a debut. But what seems incredible is true, much to the listener’s benefit. The tune opens with a stark, staccato acoustic guitar that hooked my attention immediately; instead of filling the song with strums, the band lets space ring out. The feel is almost of a mournful stutter or hesitance.
That guitar announces the tune’s solemnity right from the get-go, creating a fitting mood for the lyrics of loss and redemption to further accentuate. When the song expands to include a second guitar, a wavering violin picks up the staccato motif to tie the song together. It’s not just a sign of impressive arrangement, it’s a clear marker of strong chemistry between the players.
It’s not all instrumental synchrony, though. Songwriter/vocalist Jade Shipman’s confident alto resonates with calm-yet-emotional melodic lines. Her voice, the lyrics, and the tight instrumental arrangement result in a song that sounds like a lot less work than it certainly was: it rolls out of the speakers with ease, despite the heavy subject matter. Fans of Laura Marling, Laura Gibson, and Cat Power will find much to love in this track.
“Stone” comes from the band’s Wilderness mini-LP, whichdrops 10/20/2017. Check out the latest news on their Facebook.
The Morning Yells are a band that can appropriate and reinvent the past without becoming constrained by it. “Take Me Somewhere” combines all sorts of ’70s influences with ease: Fleetwood Mac’s mystic dreaminess, The Eagles’ effortless swagger (totally a compliment!), and the laidback California vibes of Jackson Browne.
Yet these are only touchstones–just threads pulled out of the larger tapestry. The six-and-a-half minute song feels totally cohesive and much shorter than its runtime because of the chemistry between the instrumentalists, the confident vocal performances, and the solid production job that puts just the right amount of space around all the parts. It’s a tune that easily stands up to multiple listens. They will take you somewhere, indeed.
I live in the Phoenix area now, which means that my predisposition towards seasonally-themed music is suffering from a seemingly perpetual summer. It’s almost October, dang it, and it should be fall. Joel Madison Blount‘s “Inner Monologue” is a tune helping me get into that autumnal spirit.
“Inner Monologue” is a dusky, twilit tune with a bit of a split personality. The verses are downcast, summoning feelings of urban nightly gloom. (The lyrics about middle-of-the-night doubts help this mood along.) The chorus, though, is all soaring lines, yearning guitars, and hopeful lyrics: “release your burdens / let it go / just let it go.” This section has just as much ’90s Oasis-esque Brit-pop in it as it does contemporary acoustic work.
Ultimately, the back-and-forth mirrors some of the alternating cold and warmth of fall. Fans of Gregory Alan Isakov will immediately gravitate toward the tension-and-release nature of the work and the cloudy-yet-tight arrangements.
“Inner Monologue” comes from Our New Moon, which drops September 29. You can pre-order it here.
The start-stop arrangement of Harp Samuels‘ “Wanting” sounds like the distant fragility of Jeff Buckley’s guitar work run through a latter-day Bon Iver-esque mood filter. Soul-inflected vocals, a la Moses Sumney, complete the arrangement. The tune itself takes its time to get where it’s going–at over six minutes, the song gently unspools at its own pace. The results are a languid, free-flowing tune that would fit nicely as the satisfying conclusion of a soulful indie playlist.
“Wanting” comes from Samuels’ self-released album of the same name, which drops September 8.
“Don’t Breathe a Word” is a lovely, fingerpicked singer/songwriter tune that hits all the right buttons. Fans of the genre will note that Ben Bateman‘s high tenor vocal tone shares qualities with Brett Dennen and Passenger.
The tune could work for either artist, as well. The dreamy, reverb-heavy guitar tone and delicate mood echo Dennen’s careful touch, while the structure of the lines in the lyrics and the subtle vocal delivery reminds me of Passenger. Some subtle bass work fills out the piece to give it some heft. Overall, it’s a light, airy, romantic piece that would fit as the soundtrack to a lazy summer day,swinging in a hammock or lying down in the grass.
While you can hear the song in advance on YouTube above, it hits digital outlets on July 31st. It’s the first of six songs Bateman will be releasing monthly over the next half-year. If you can’t wait that long to hear more from him, he’ll be doing some live dates soon:
November 3rd: Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
December 1st Great British Folk Festival
Chris Wills’ “Since You Said Goodbye” is a folk-pop tune anchored by an unusually syncopated bass drum pattern in the chorus that is punched way up in the mix. You might think to yourself, “How is there percussion in a folk-pop song that isn’t just whacking a tom on the 1 and 3?” or “Who pushes the bass drum all the way to the top of the mix?” Well, friends, listen and find out.
Beyond the percussion, Wills’ vocal performance is a highlight. His voice has a post-pop-punk tone–you can still hear some of the nasally, yelpy enthusiasm–that allows him to give the song energy just with his performance but also include more sophisticated vocal moves, such as subtle vibrato and small intonation shifts that give individual lines more emotional heft. The combination of the vocal performance and the unusual drum pattern gives a big lift to this folk-pop song, which has connections to The Lumineers, Twin Forks, and more brash, bold folksters.
This is a fun, interesting tune that serves to tease his upcoming EP quite well. “Since You Said Goodbye” will be on the This Place Ain’t For Me EP, which comes out August 11.
(Sorry about the downtime! Something got corrupted and we were out of commission for a while. It’s good to be back. Many thanks to Chris Krycho for the technical assistance needed in getting us back online.)
Last year I was totally enamored with JPH’s Songs of Loss. The album is a singular wonder: a fully-realized turn of a musician putting strong songwriting powers to the difficult subject of personal grief. The sonics are adventurous but humble, the lyrics are raw, and the whole product comes off as a unique experience. There are a lot of unexpected left turns, sonically. JPH has given me the great honor of premiering the video for “Song 7” from the album today. Like the album, it’s a hushed, delicate piece that throws a different light (or lack thereof) on the subject of mourning.
The video is simple: a dancer in an almost-dark room moves gracefully. Sarah Ingel is never seen head to toe; the camera frames her at odd angles and casts her motions in unusual ways. The music takes its time starting (almost fifteen seconds of silence), and then ends mid-video; Ingel continues dancing in silence for almost two minutes after the song is over. She eventually fades away from the screen, flickering, here and there, and then gone. Grief does feel like that–it keeps going long after the events surrounding a death are over, emerging in fits and starts, in unexpected moments, in unexpected ways. It’s startling and even somewhat uncomfortable to keep watching a video in silence; that rupture of the normal further cements the connection between the video and its subject matter. It’s an unconventional music video for an unconventional album, and it works beautifully.
Jonny Rodgers (Cindertalk) is starting up a new record label called Off Atlas, and artists who are getting involved are catching my ear. Beyond Cindertalk’s ever-interesting work, The Soldier Story and now Hybird have joined up.
Hybird’s “Sun and Air” is a delicate-yet-weighty indie-pop track, with songwriter Ravi Krishnaswami balancing left-hand piano chords against glockenspiel lead melodies and wavering, trebly electric guitar lines.
The song builds from humble beginnings to a big conclusion, but the tune never feels expansive; even at the apex of the final crescendo, the song sounds more claustrophobic than grand. Krishnaswami’s twee-sounding voice contributes to the feeling of nearness, as its hushed, twee tone makes the vocal melodies drip with vulnerability.
This pervasive sense of intimate closeness, even a little too much closeness, mirrors the lyrics. Written while Krishnaswami’s wife was in bad condition at a hospital, the words try to grapple with the many emotions and fears of having a loved one in an uncertain state. The titular elements are given to the sick loved one “to stay with you / when I’m not there,” a heartbreaking situation to be in. (But yet, the hope of the sun and air!) These uncertainties and tensions match the song’s sonic quality, which shines in the light of hope amid the darkness of a minor key arrangement. Overall, the tune shows a careful attention to the contours of how an arrangement and lyrics fit together, creating an evocative, memorable tune. Fans of Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era work or William Fitzsimmons’ delicate-yet-devastating work will find much to love here.
Nichoals Roberts’ Springbok Sessions video for “River to a Flood” sets him in nature, hanging out in the grounds behind the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando. It’s sunset, and there’s a hazy background that could be a lake, a river, or some other wide expanse. The serene conditions are a perfect match for Roberts’ delicate, almost crystalline tune; his whisper-folk voice meshes seamlessly over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. There are traces of William Fitzsimmons’ hushed intensity here, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era elegies. The results are magnificent; it’s a beautiful rendition of an excellent song.